Welcome once again to my world of zoos. I am Stuart Hall, and I once stole a girlfriend from your father. You find me sat in a rather delightful street cafe, supping on Schweppes – fizzy! – and rampant in shorts. “Surely it’s not warm enough for shorts at this time of year?” I hear you wondering. A-HA! This episode was pre-recorded. In Spain. And in all honesty, legs as fine as mine deserve to be aired daily. I find it pleases the locals.
I know, I know, I must not digress – my editor is making faces at me that make him appear to be in the middle of a rather troubling bowel movement – you of course do not want to hear about MY mighty pins…oh my no, we’ll save that for later. INSTEAD, you are no doubt eager to get on with our visit, I see in your eyes the intensity of Mark Hughes after miss hitting a volley. “Bleddy hellfiyah, Sam!” But, dear reader, how do you propose to embark on this trip with yours truly, if you have not a clue about where it is I will grace with my presence?! You silly sillys.
WAIT! Whats that you say?…. it’s in the title? WELL! In that case put down your Estrella Damm, return the waitress to her owner and slide into my classic automobile. You must be well-behaved though, this isn’t ANY zoo, this is THE zoo. NO! NOT Zizou. Listen! NEVER ZIZOU.
Fieras Club Barcelona was established in 1899 by a group of Swiss, English, and Spanish animal lovers and has become a symbol of Catalan culture. It’s motto is “Més que un colección de fieras” – More than just a collection of beasts. That maybe so, but WHAT a collection of beasts! Just thinking about it makes my knees weak, and my bladder over burdened. They are connected! Fortunately as you, my devoted fans may know, I expel all my waste in pellet form, a trick first shown to me by the late great Jimmy Sirrel.
The first stop on our tour is next to a robust enclosure, inside of which resides an animal which is characterised by its stocky and muscular build, pungent odour, screeching call when endangered, yet ferocity when feeding. It is, of course, Alves; the Tasmanian Devil.
His large head and neck allow him to generate the strongest bite per body mass of any living mammal. Technically a marsupial, Alves has a large pouch in which he stores many many Euros, yet is always hunting for more. We mustn’t loiter around his cage for two long though, Alves is an aggressive creature, prone to launching an attack without warning. Look, here he comes now! Strutting like an indignant soldier; it is time to leave.
The next exhibit is housed in a large open paddock. In a far corner a giant bird raises its long neck. On top sits a bizarre head with a plumage that appears to be a biological accident rather than anything born of evolutionary design. AN ABOMINATION! Indeed, if God* had created this creature one would suspect him to be stark raving mad and not BR-rrritish at all. Perhaps that explains the beard? And everything else.
Either way, the thing is now approaching us at a rate of knots until he arrives and views us with an expression that only an animal with a brain as large as its own eyeball can have. You’ll recognise it now, close up. He is Puyol – an Ostrich and proud icon of the zoo. When threatened, Puyol will hide himself by lying flat against the ground, only moving from this position once tended to by a physio, or removed from the field altogether via a customised golf buggy. If cornered, it can attack with a kick from its powerful legs.
We must move on, for there is so much more to see. The next item of interest is just behind this fence. There he goes, trotting back and forth, braying incessantly. You, I and other sensible English-speaking humans would call Piqué a donkey. Here however, he is known as a ‘burro’ or a ‘ruc’ for no reason other than the Spanish insisting on having their own words for things. Then some of them telling others not to use those words.
A donkey Stuart? Really? Is this what you have brought us all this way to see?
HA! This is no ordinary donkey. Look at him again, he would make pure breed stallions jealous. Whilst he may spend most days pulling a cart full of local children around the zoo, occasionally he will be allowed into the arena where he performs a dressage routine up there with the very best. Can I, Stuart Hall, dressed as Poseidon and covered in fish oil persuade the zoo to give us a preview? Apparently not, Head Keeper Guardiola is allergic to my false beard and resists any further cuddling. Also, in an unrelated incident, the donkey is bleeding. What can I say, I tried dear friends. Hand me the towel and we shall continue.
What better way to continue in fact, than taking a look at the zoo’s most popular exhibits. Follow me closely, we must push through the crowd. If we DO get separated I will make the mating call of the male Aldabra giant tortoise. You will be able to find me by following the vibrations in your teeth.
This is the home of the Meerkats, look there they are; Messi, Pedro, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa and Busquets, scurrying about between the outcrops, stopping – looking for space – and then scurrying some more. Scurry! The watching crowd are delighted!
The Meerkats forage in a group with Busquets on guard watching for predators, like a swooping Sergio Ramos, while the others search for food. Hilariously for this group, Messi is the dominant male, and the others will groom him and lick his face as a sign of their subordination. Suddenly Busquets barks, and they scurry to safety. Scurry! A quick scout around the crowd spots the cause of their concern. A skulking Mourinho. Spotted, he raises his hood in defence and blends back into the crowd.
Our time here is up, but one cannot leave Spain without touching on the other side of its relationship with animals. Whilst those at the zoo are celebrated, others are marked out for punishment. Catalonia recent moved to outlaw Spain’s most horrific and cruel blood sport last summer. As an animal lover, I was personally moved by their decision to end this barbaric practice: the tortuous and protracted humiliation of a dumb, bewildered animal in front of a baying, jeering crowd…
*In my experience there have only been two beings truly worthy of my worship: Napoleon Bonaparte and James Christopher “Jimmy” Armfield.